Functional organizations such as learning, human resources, legal, and information technology have historically been viewed as support organizations. As such, they are treated as cost centers rather than profit centers. They are considered indirect sources of value rather than direct sources. However, these organizations are becoming more strategic and finding ways to become more valuable to their companies.
For example, with the emphasis on monetizing intellectual property, legal has found its way to generate revenue directly and be a more strategic function. Information technology (IT) also has found success in leveraging the Internet to increase revenue and reduce costs, making it a strategic business function. Human resources, too, with its influence on improving employee engagement and mitigating legal risks, has become an enabler of strategic value.
But what about an organization’s learning function? Are CLOs and learning departments gaining ground on the strategic front—and becoming equally valuable as their kindred support organizations?
Indeed, there are many top-performing organizations that consider human capital to be their most important asset. By doing so, these organizations have made learning and development (L&D) a top priority. L&D has earned a seat at the corporate strategic planning table, and is consulted as early as other functional areas when new initiatives are planned.
Understanding the Three Views of L&D
Yet, there are still many organizations where L&D is not viewed as strategic. In fact, they still consider L&D to be the organizational function that provides perfunctory training. Therefore, L&D is a cost to be minimized.
By and large, the L&D function is viewed in one of three ways:
Low value: L&D is a necessary function, but also a cost to be minimized. The focus is generally on providing training and other basic “how-to” resources, but at the lowest cost possible.
Medium value: L&D is an important function that supports a company’s strategies and objectives. The focus is generally on building skills and learning best practices that support the company’s tactical goals.
- High value: L&D is a strategic function that helps enable a company’s near-term results, as well as their long-term direction. The focus is on shaping the desired culture, fostering new ways of thinking, developing new behaviors, and driving strategic opportunities.
Proving L&D Is High Value to Your Organization
If your organization has yet to be view L&D as a high-value strategic function that enables and drives your company’s results, here are five principles to follow:
Consider yourself and your team as strategic enablers, not as support staff. Develop the mindset of a line of business that feels responsible for driving strategy and leading change. In essence, think bigger and broader. Think more strategically and be more proactive. Be the means to a more important end—rather than an end itself.
Understand your company’s goals, strategies, and operations at a detailed level. Understand the products, services, processes, systems, and finances across the company. Not only know why they exist and what they are, but also how to use them. Become as knowledgeable about your business domains as you are your learning and development domains.
Align every aspect of L&D with the rest of the company. Don’t use your own vernacular. Don’t have separate processes, systems, and frameworks. Be integrated into the systems and processes of your lines of business. Adopt the same goals, expectations, and metrics used by the rest of the organization.
Conceive, recommend, and implement L&D solutions that enable your company’s business strategy. Come up with solutions that enable your company to pursue new opportunities. Develop solutions that address the problems and obstacles that prevent higher levels of business performance. Think not only about improving people productivity and effectiveness, but also about enabling new markets, new strategies, new partnerships, and best practices. Drive behavioral changes that directly drive results.
- Add value and track it. Ensure your L&D contributions are effective and noticed. Don’t allow L&D to merely be a “check in the box” of having been consulted or recognized. Instead, become a material part of divisional review meetings. Add value to performance assessment and appraisal discussions. Be involved and add value to hiring, selection, onboarding, development, and appraisal processes.
Currently, one of the top areas that L&D organizations can add value is through enabling innovation and change. Many companies are unable to enter new markets or produce new offerings due to an inherent lack of innovation. These companies know someone in their industry will develop a better mousetrap at some point and they want to be the one that does it. But they can’t figure it out. L&D organizations can help overcome this obstacle by leading the effort to increase the company’s innovation capabilities. Other opportunities to drive results include leveraging data analytics, digital security, and social media.